A political action committee backed by Baton Rouge contractor Lane Grigsby and others will promote “reform” candidates running for Louisiana’s top school board, officials said Tuesday.
The group, called The Alliance for Better Classrooms, or ABC PAC, has raised $200,000 and plans to spend $1 million or more, Grigsby said in an interview Tuesday.
“The present system is not working,” Grigsby said of public schools.
The announcement is the latest signal that contests for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, called BESE, will enjoy a higher-than-normal profile this year.
Eight of the board’s 11 seats are on the Oct. 22 primary ballot.
At least six of those races, and maybe seven, are expected to be seriously contested, including two in the Baton Rouge area.
Three other BESE members are named by Gov. Bobby Jindal, who also is expected to get involved in the races.
BESE sets policies for an estimated 668,000 public school students statewide.
The panel often splits 6-5 on key issues, and Jindal needs eight votes to select the next state superintendent of education.
This year’s elections are seen as a struggle between advocates of wholesale changes in public schools and those who contend that such efforts are misguided.
Organizers of the ABC PAC noted that earlier this year Education Week magazine gave Louisiana an “F” for student achievement.
“Too many kids are being left behind,” Grigsby said.
The ABC PAC says it favors:
• Major changes in how public schools are funded, which is called student-based budgeting and would give principals new financial authority.
• Louisiana’s new law that will require teachers to undergo annual evaluations, and link half of a teacher’s rating to student achievement.
• A wide range of steps in the name of school choice, including tax credits, tax deductions, home schools and virtual schools.
“Our goal is to protect the rights of the students, not the adults who benefit from the payrolls of the school system,” the group’s website says.
Grigsby said he favors the removal of Dale Bayard of Lake Charles, who holds the District 7 seat.
Bayard will be challenged by Holly Boffy of Lafayette, a former state teacher of the year and an advocate of ending teacher tenure.
Grigsby also praised challenger Tira Orange Jones, who is executive director of Teach For America Greater New Orleans, over incumbent Louella Givens of New Orleans in District 2.
Other seats on the ballot are District 6, which is held by Chas Roemer, who lives in Baton Rouge and District 8, which is being vacated by Linda Johnson of Plaquemine.
Qualifying for BESE and other offices is Sept. 6-8.
In the past, Grigsby and his political action committees have been involved in legislative, congressional and other races, and sometimes triggered controversy over their hard-hitting themes.
Other’s on ABC’s advisory committee include:
• Former Gov. Buddy Roemer, who is running for president as a Republican.
• Tim Barfield, former executive counsel for Jindal.
• Rolfe McCollister, publisher of the Baton Rouge Business Report and former Jindal campaign treasurer.
• Ruth Ulrich of Monroe, who is Louisiana’s GOP national committeewoman.
ABC is also at odds with the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education, which includes teacher unions, school board members and superintendents.
The coalition has criticized Jindal administration public school policies as well as the governor’s influence over BESE.
Jack Loup, founder of the coalition, could not be reached for comment.